ACU has a long tradition of putting on Homecoming musicals, but this year it’s going to look different.
Since its founding in 1951, the Department of Theatre has released a production for Homecoming.
“Historically, we have produced a homecoming musical and it has been part of the legacy and tradition of the university and our campus, just like the football game and parade,” said executive producer Dawne Swearingen-Meeks.
Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella was chosen for this year’s Homecoming nearly a year ago.
COVID-19 has presented challenges for the musical’s production. The production team frequently discussed questions about dance numbers and where to keep the orchestra. Ultimately, they came to the decision to record the musical without a live audience and debut the recording instead.
Coronavirus restrictions have affected every part of the production cycle. Auditions and callbacks were recorded and passed back and forth between the guest director, Jeff Smith, who was in New York City at the time, and the rest of the staff.
Lily Balogh, artist-in-residence, prepared all the dance numbers in her kitchen. The cast learned the dances over Zoom meetings, finding space wherever they could.
Coronavirus restrictions weren’t the only obstacle that Swearingen-Meeks and her team faced. Early in production, news broke that the musical would not be allowed to be recorded or streamed.
This would not stop Swearingen-Meeks and the rest of the cast and crew. The crew quickly assessed their options and pivoted to writing their own version of the Cinderella story, one with a unique Abilene twist.
This is the first time the Homecoming production will not be a live stage production. Instead, ACU Theatre produced a short film. ACU Theatre worked with a number of artists from Los Angeles, New York City and even some journalism and mass communication students.
This brought many new challenges to the table, but the team worked hard and pulled through. They wrapped filming on Oct. 4.
“I love that in the midst of all this, it’s a new training opportunity that, frankly, we probably wouldn’t have considered,” Swearingen-Meeks, associate professor and chair of the Department of Theatre, said. “I’m really proud of where we landed and I cannot wait to see what the future looks like.”
Nora Vellis, junior musical theatre major from Abilene who plays the Fairy Godmother, walked away with a similar feeling of growth.
“One theme that our director Jeff Smith mentioned was the idea that it’s still possible to create art during COVID, and I really resonated with that,” Vellis said. “So many schools and theatre companies, including Broadway, are choosing to postpone or even completely cancel productions across the country, so the fact that we were able to do a short film at all was a blessing. It is possible to maintain a normal life in COVID, and that’s the biggest thing I’ll take from this process.”
Cinderella will premier Friday.